Don’t Forget the Stars (by Tauna Petit-Strawn)
Don’t Forget the Stars
“Thank you, Sam.” Ben said as he took the sack from Mr. Michaelson and laid it on top of the other ones in the back of the wagon.
“I hope Hop Sing likes the Crockery.” Sam smiled at Ben, he knew how picky Hop Sing was, when it came to the kitchen and his cooking.
“He’ll like the crockery all right, he’d better. Hey, tell Mike hello.” Ben admired the way the boy was always doing what he could to learn something more.
“Sure, he’ll be sorry he missed you.” Sam replied.
While Sam and Ben were talking Michael was up on the roof enjoying the new telescope Adam had been kind enough to get for him. So, engrossed was he didn’t pay attention when he pointed the instrument downwards, allowing the sun to go through the glass and onto the wagon, and the crate filled with straw.
Ben started sniffing the air, something was wrong. Smoke!
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked.
“Something’s burning!” Ben looked around, horrified to see the flames that were jumping up from the crate the crockery was in. “It’s the crate!” Ben ran, jumped up on the wagon, picked up the crate and threw it onto the ground. Alas, it landed near the horses and spooked them; they went wild, and Ben was thrown through the air.
Ben felt the wagon lurch forward; he saw too late where he, in his hurry to get the crate off the wagon, had thrown the crate. As he flew off the wagon he saw Adam coming out of the store, a look of horror in his eyes. It was the last thing Ben saw.
“Pa!” Adam yelled and ran to his father’s side, as did others. “Pa!” Ben did not answer, he couldn’t; he was unconscious. “Go get the doctor!” Adam barked. He needn’t have bothered; Mr. Michaelson had already taken off to do so.
Adam saw the papers flittering to the ground and looked up to the top of the store building. A very shocked, upset, Mike met his eyes. As soon as Adam saw the telescope next to the lad, and the angle it was pointed at, Adam knew what had started the fire. A part of Adam was angry at the lad. How could Mike be so careless with that thing! A part of him though, told Adam it was his own fault, for not making sure the boy understood exactly what could happen if you weren’t careful with an instrument like that. He turned his attention back to his pa.
Dr. Martin who had arrived and was checking Ben over looked at Adam and said, “Get a stretcher of some sort. We’ve got to get your pa to my office without endangering that back of his.” He didn’t have to say what he feared; Adam already feared the same thing. He, and a few men, hurried to do as the doctor directed.
“Is…Is he going to be all right?” Mike, who had flown down the stairs leading to the inside of the store, now stood near the doctor and down at Mr. Cartwright. He had to be all right. He, Michael, fought to keep the fear out of his voice. He hadn’t meant any harm. He wasn’t trying to hurt anyone.
“I don’t know, son, I really don’t know.” Dr. Martin continued checking Ben over until Adam and the men came with a stretcher and, together, carefully moved Mr. Cartwright onto it. Then, together, Adam and the men hurried as fast as they dared to Dr. Martin’s office.
“I didn’t mean it, Adam.” Mike kept up with Adam and the men as they headed for the doctor’s office. “I was just taking different notes down. I didn’t know the wagon was directly below the glass.”
With the fear for his pa’s well-being, even his life, in danger, along with the knowledge that the responsibility of the ranch and his brothers would fall onto him, should the worst happen, pressing down upon him Adam snapped. He turned his head slightly and barked, “I gave you that telescope so you could learn something, not as a lethal weapon!” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Adam wanted to take them back. Mike’s face fell and he turned around and ran off towards the store.
“Way to go, Adam.” Adam thought to himself as a bystander hurried to open the door and let the men in. “As soon as you find out what’s going on with your pa, you’re going to have to go make things right with that lad. He doesn’t need the guilt that he’s probably taken upon himself right now.”
Adam, Little Joe, and Hoss each sat on chairs in the doctor’s office waiting nervously for the doctor to come out and talk with them. Hoss had hurried over from visiting one of the waitresses over at the café the moment Sheriff Coffee had run into the café and told him about the accident. Little Joe had practically flown out of the saloon the moment his friend, Kyle Tanner, had ran into the saloon yelling ‘Mr. Cartwright just went flying through the air! I think he’s dead!’ The first chance he got, Little Joe was going feed the man his fist, for scaring the daylights out of him! They kept telling themselves Ben would be all right, but the longer they had to wait for Dr. Martin appear the more worried they became.
When the front door opened all three turned their heads. Mr. Michaelson and Mike stood in the doorway; Mr. Michaelson’s worry for his friend shown in his troubled eyes, and Mike kept his head turned down slightly. As worried as Adam and his brothers were for their pa, they were just as concerned for Mike. They knew full well if their pa didn’t fully recover, or should pass away, he would blame himself.
“Any word yet.” Mr. Michaelson looked at Adam as he closed the front door to the doctor’s office. “He has to live; he has to be all right.”
Adam shook his head and replied, “We’re still waiting.” He then looked at Mike. He had to do what he could do to make sure the boy knew none of them were going to seek any ‘revenge’ of some sort. Mike had to know Adam and his brothers knew it was a pure accident that landed their father in the doctor’s office. “Accidents happen, Mike. I’m sorry for snapping earlier.”
Mike lifted his head and looked at the Cartwright brothers. “I should’ve have made sure the telescope wasn’t pointed at anything.” His father’s words from only minutes before rang through his ears. “How could you be so foolish! You were supposed to be cleaning your room, not sitting on top of the roof with your head in the clouds! Now Mr. Cartwright has been hurt, maybe very seriously! What were you thinking!” Mr. Michaelson had laid into his son the moment he’d entered the store, right after Adam had snapped at him. Michael said nothing as Mr. Michaelson grabbed his arm and started marching him over to the doctor’s office.
Adam felt frustration rising inside him. The boy hadn’t listened to a word he’d just said. Before he could say anything, before any of them could say anything, Dr. Martin came out from the back room. All their eyes turned to the good man.
“Paul?” Adam stiffened, as did they all, the doctor wasn’t looking very happy. How badly had their father been injured?
Dr. Martin looked at them all, especially Mike. Adam had told him what happened and he knew what it would do to the boy to hear what he, the doctor had to say. Paul took a deep breath, “Your father broke his back…”, before he could say another word Mike bolted and ran out the front door as everyone’s heart stopped at the good man’s announcement.
Adam would have gone after Mike, but he had to hear everything the doctor had to say, as they all did. “How bad is the break?” Adam looked at the doctor and asked, and then found himself holding his breath, as they all did.
“I don’t know.” Paul shook his head as he continued; he wished he did. “He’s suffered a concussion, and he’s not awake yet. Until he comes to, and I can test his ability to move his toes and feet, all we can do is wait. That is,” he said before pausing for a few minutes. The pause put everyone on edge, “if he wakes up. I’m afraid it might be more than a broken back your father is suffering from,” Paul said as he looked at Ben’s three sons, “There is a possibility he has a skull fracture; he’s not responding to stimuli. If he doesn’t wake up soon, we’ll have to get him on a train and send him to the hospital in Reno and have him operated on.”
Shock waves ran through each of them and Mr. Michaelson. No! Ben had to wake up! That kind of surgery was high risk, and they all knew it.
“M…May we see him?” Little Joe voice quivered ever so slightly as he spoke up and looked at the doctor.
Paul nodded as he said, “Only one of you at a time though, he doesn’t need more visitors than that right now.” Little Joe made a beeline for the room where his father lay.
Mr. Michaelson, who was feeling bad for both his friend and the things that he, himself, had said to his son, looked at Adam and said, “Please, let us know if there is anything we can do. I would stay, but,” he said as he sighed and looked towards the open door, “I have a son to go talk to.” He had to do what he could to undo the emotional damage that had been done to his son; Mr. Michaelson knew that.
Adam nodded. “Sure thing, just tell him we don’t blame him, really.” His eyes showed the sincerity of his words. He didn’t want Mike to be blaming himself. He had seen what that kind of guilt could do to a person, and he didn’t want that for Mike. The lad had such potential, that potential needed to be allowed to grow and flourish.
“Pa.” Adam’s thoughts turned to his father as Mr. Michaelson turned and left the office. “You have to live; I still need you.” He did too; with everything that had changed time after time on him, his father had been the one consistent thing in his life, and that just couldn’t change. Could it?
Little Joe sat next to his pa holding the man’s hand and looking upon the man’s closed eyes. “Oh, pa,” Little Joe said as tears rolled off his cheeks, “You gotta wake up. You just gotta.” His mind wandered back over the years as one memory after another played itself out on the stage of his mind. Yes, there were bad times, but there were good ones too.
“Pa!” Seven year old Joseph cried out in excitement. He’d just had a fish bite and was struggling to get it in. He’d almost lost the fish until he felt his father’s hands reach around from behind him. The extra pair of hands made it so the fish landed on their dinner plate instead of swimming away down river.
“Remember that pa?” Little Joe wiped the tears away from his face. He was far too old to be doing this, crying that is. “We caught a lot of fish that day, did a lot of other things too. I think I would have driven Adam nuts if it hadn’t been for you.
“Adam!” Little Joe ran up to his older brother, fish in tow; after all, he had to show him ‘the big fish’. Only one problem, Little Joe lost the grip on the fish and it landed on Adam’s book!
“LITTLE JOE!” Adam had flown up into the air only to have their pa appear and give him ‘that look’.
“Sorry, Adam,” Little Joe apologized, “I lost it.”
“More ways than one,” Adam thought but said nothing as he did what he could to dry the page off.
He was brought out of his thoughts when Hoss entered the room. “How is he?” Hoss rested his arm on top of the bed’s headboard and looked down upon his father. How he wished his father would wake up.
“Hasn’t even made the slight movement,” Little Joe put his hands up to his chin. “I thought Paul said only one of us at a time?” He kept his eyes on his pa as he asked his brother the question.
“He did,” Hoss answered, “I sort of snuck in. Adam went over to the Michaelson’s. He’s worried about Mike. He’s blaming himself for this accident.” Hoss felt his heart breaking for both his pa and for Mike. He was afraid of the consequences for both of them.
Little Joe shook his head. “A part of me understands why he does and agrees, but,” he said as he sighed, “the other part knows full well it was a pure accident. Pa wouldn’t want him to be held accountable for any of it.”
Hoss knew that; he was glad Little Joe realized it; however, would Adam be able to make Mike see it? He could only hope and pray his oldest brother was successful on that end. “I know.” Hoss tapped Little Joe on the shoulder. “I ate. Reckon, you need to go get some lunch too. I’ll sit with pa for a spell.” Little Joe went to deny how hungry he was, and found his stomach rumble quite vocally. He gave in and left Hoss with their pa.
With his brothers thus occupied, Adam stood in the store talking with Sam Michaelson. Mike had left on an errand just before Adam arrived. “No, no change yet Sam, but it’s only been an hour. Paul says he’ll give him a couple more hours, and then,” Adam said as he sighed, “we get ready to transport him. I really wanted to talk to Mike before then, just in case.” The look on the young man’s face after he, Adam, had snapped at him and when he ran out of Dr. Martin’s office still pressed itself upon the oldest Cartwright’s face.
“He should be back within the hour.” Sam said as he leaned against the counter. “We both feel horrible about the accident, Mike most of all. I’m afraid I tore into him something fierce when he came back in the store.” He still felt bad about that. “I tried, after he left the doctor’s office, to talk to him, but I’m afraid he wasn’t listening.” How he wished he had controlled his temper.
“That would be right after I snapped at him.” Adam rested his arm upon the corner as he leaned to one side. “I wasn’t trying to blame him, really; I’m just concerned about pa is all. I wanted to tell we don’t hold it against him.” He did too. Mike had to understand no one held the blame for what happened. Accidents happened; it was a fact of life that everyone would be better off accepting. At least, in Adam’s point of view they would be.
“If he does wake up, does the doctor think there will be more damage?” Sam tapped his forehead. Adam didn’t have to ask what the man was asking; he knew. Head injuries were so unpredictable, and everyone knew it.
“He warned us there may be a possibility of that. He couldn’t really say,” Adam answered as he stepped away from the counter and over to the doorway of the store. He could see the doctor’s office off in the distance. “I keep praying if there’s any sort of damage it will be minimal. Right now I’d deal with anything so long as it meant pa was alive. At least, I think I would.”
Sam nodded in understanding. He remembered how he felt the day his father had fallen ill, when Sam was but eight years old. He remembered how scared he was and how he wondered what would happen if his father had crossed over to the other side. This could not happen to Ben Cartwright yet. “I will send Mike over when he gets back, Adam. Go be with your pa.”
“All right, I’ll be waiting for him.” Adam stepped out of the store and headed for the doctor’s office.
The light from the sun shone in and through the open loft doors. Mike had sent the things his father needed to the store with a friend. He hadn’t felt like even being near the store; near ‘that street’. So, he’d sent the items on ahead, walked into his friend’s barn and climbed up to the loft. His latest experiment sat in the middle of the loft still waiting for him.
He ran his hand over the piece of machinery and sighed. His experiment were always making his father angry but they’d never hurt anyone, until now. Mike found his frustration over his failed experiments, being kicked out of school by a teacher who, who despite of the excuse he used to get rid of Mike, didn’t like the fact that the student knew more than he did and now, the accident involving Mr. Cartwright, finally came to a head and he yelled and pushed the piece of machinery over. The smaller pieces broke off and scattered everywhere, some even flew down to the floor below.
Mike fell to his knees and started weeping. His preoccupation with the stars and light might be costing Mr. Cartwright his life. Even if it didn’t, the doctor said he’d broken his back. What if he never walked again? The more he thought on that the more he cried. Maybe, he should just stop all this foolishness as his father called it. Maybe, his father was right. Maybe, he should get his head out of the clouds and back on earth.
While his son was in the loft destroying his machine and crying, Mr. Michaelson had left the store and was looking for him. Hoss, who had left his father’s side once Adam walked back into the room, was with him. “You don’t think he’d run off do you?” Hoss looked at Sam. The very thought of Mike doing such a thing upset Hoss, as it did Sam.
“I don’t know.” Sam shrugged his shoulders as he sat in his buggy and made sure the horses were going towards the last place Mike had been seen; Hoss was riding Chubby. “When his mother died, Mike hid away from weeks, up in his bedroom. It was all I could do to get him to come out then. I fear,” Sam said as they drew near the barn they’d been told Mike had gone into, “if your father does not make it, what it will do to my son.”
Hoss feared it too, as did Adam and Little Joe. It was that fear that had compelled him to do as Adam asked and join Sam in the hunt for Mike. Now, opening the barn doors, the two men stepped inside. Both were shocked to see the pieces of metal that had fallen to the floor lying scattered over the barn’s floor. “Mike!” Sam called out. Nothing.
“Mike!” Hoss hollered. For a moment there was nothing but the wind, and then he, Hoss heard it, a muffled cry. He hurried up the ladder to the loft. He wasn’t surprised to see Mike kneeling on the loft floor in middle of the rest of the pieces of the destroyed machinery. His heart broke for the lad before him. He walked over and knelt down beside Mike saying nothing and doing nothing, nothing but laying his hand on the lad’s shoulder. What else could he do?
When Mike could get himself to talk he asked, “Is your father awake?” He looked on Hoss, his eyes pleading for him to tell him that was the case. He needed it to the case.
“Not when I left,” Hoss answered slowly, “Adam is with him right now. He desperately wants to see ya.”
“Why?” Mike turned his eyes to the mess he’d made in his fit of rage. “I may have crippled your pa or worse yet killed him.” His shoulders started shaking as he, unsuccessfully, fought to keep back his tears; grown men didn’t cry, and he wasn’t exactly a little child anymore.
Hoss stiffened and spoke as firm he knew how. Somehow that boy had to get it through his thick skill to let go any guilt he believed to be his! “No! We told ya befer, it was an accident! No one’s to blame! Iff’n I have to tell ya that a thousand times, I will. Now git yerself together! Adam has asked to see you and talk with ya, and I reckon you can at least listen to him!” Hoss stood up and tapped Mike on the back.
Mike didn’t feel like facing Adam, he didn’t want to see Mr. Cartwright lying on the bed unconscious, but he didn’t want to fight Hoss either. He’d tried that on a couple of occasions in the past and always lost. He stood up and turned around. He was horrified to see his father standing in the loft, a look of pain in his eyes.
If Sam had thought his son would listen, he’d have told him again what he, Sam, thought about the whole situation. However, he knew the lad probably had ‘that door’ locked shut. That being the case, he simple descended the ladder and waited for his son and Hoss as they too climbed down the steps. The three of them walked out the door and headed back towards town and to Adam, back to a man who, unbeknownst to Mike, was holding onto a bit of guilt too.
Adam sat looking down upon his father’s face. The man looked so peaceful, almost too peaceful. Adam might have thought he’d passed on to the other side only his chest was rising and falling, giving evidence of life. Adam leaned forward in his chair and put his face into his uplifted hands. With no one around to see him, he let his tears fall.
Adam asked himself why he hadn’t at least given Mike a strict warning about the telescope. The boy was young, eager to learn and, naturally, would not always stop and think about what he was doing. To top it off, to react the way he did when the boy followed them to the doctor’s office. He couldn’t help but shake his head. He had to make Mike see that, if there was any blame at all, it didn’t just lay at his feet.
Hoss, Sam and Mike had just got back into town when they saw Mr. Nolan hurrying towards them. What did he want? Was Ben awake or what? “I’ve been looking all over for you.” Mr. Nolan looked from Mike to his father, and then back to Mike.
“I can’t teach a boy who just sits there and daydreams. He won’t look at me; he doesn’t listen, and he’s setting a bad example.” Mr. Nolan’s words the day he came to the store to talk to Mr. Michaelson rang again in Mike’s ears. “What do you want?” Mike asked with no emotion in his voice.
Mr. Nolan cringed a bit at the look Mike gave him as he asked the question. “I deserve that one” he thought as he took a deep breath. “I lied to myself the day I expelled you from school. Truth was, you are the smartest boy in the classroom; I just didn’t want to give the extra time and space you needed. I was thinking too much of myself. Please, come back to school.”
Mike said nothing. He figured someone must have told the teacher what had happened and that was the only reason for the apology and the request. When he didn’t answer, Mr. Michaelson spoke up, “I’ll talk to my son about it later, but right now we have to get to the doctor’s office.” He hoped Mr. Nolan would just accept that for now and not delay them any longer.
“Can’t say I blame you for not saying anything back,” Mr. Nolan said as he continued looking at Mike, “but I still hope to see you in class soon.” He spoke as sincerely as any man could. Yes, he had heard about the accident and, if he were to be honest it had had a part in waking him up. Once he’d heard the news, Mr. Nolan realized that the boy never would have had cause to be up on the roof if he, Mr. Nolan, had just been honest with himself and kept the lad in school in the first place. After doing some honest soul searching, he realized the error of his way, and he did want the lad back in school. He turned and hurried back towards the school building; after all, lunch was over and the children would be wondering where he was.
Mr. Michaelson looked at his son. A part of him wanted to make the lad march right back into the school, after Adam had seen him, but he realized that it would do no good unless Mike wanted it. Maybe, after Adam had talked to him he, Mr. Michaelson, could Mike to see he needed to give Mr. Nolan a second chance. Sure, a lot of people didn’t give others a second chance, didn’t mean Mike had to be one of them.
Uncomfortable with his father and Hoss looking at him, Mike spoke up. “We best get to Adam.” It’s not that he was looking forward to that visit either, but at least it would get the two from bugging him about stepping foot back into ‘that man’s’ classroom. That, being in Mr. Nolan’s class again, was not exactly very inviting at the moment.
Sam looked at Hoss who simply shrugged his shoulders. “I guess we best.” Hoss said as they, once again, headed for Dr. Martin’s. The good doctor was just saying good bye to another patient when Hoss and the Michaelson arrived at the office.
Dr. Martin sighed; he wished he could have greeted them with wonderful news. As it was, the time was almost up that he’d given them. He was afraid they were going to have to start discussing how they would transport Ben to Reno and the risk involved; after all, a man in Ben’s condition was dangerous. After all, the trip to Reno would be a rough one. “Adam’s waiting for Mike.” Dr. Martin held the door open for the boy and the two men. “I’ll have to ask you two to wait with Little Joe in the front though.”
Hoss wasn’t surprised to hear Little Joe was back at the doctor’s. He figured none of them would be resting easy, until Ben was awake on one side or the other. “Yes, sir.” Hoss said as he followed the Michaelson’s into the office.
Little Joe looked way from the back door when he heard Dr. Michaelson begin to talk to his brother and the Michaelson’s. If trusted himself, he’d have stood up, walked over and hugged Mike. As it was, he simply smiled at the lad and said, “Hello, good to see you.”
Mike bristled somewhat wondering why on earth Little Joe would say it was good to see him; surely he was just a reminder of why Mr. Cartwright was lying in Dr. Martin’s office in the first place. Still, for the sake of being polite, he returned the greeting. “Hello, Hoss said Adam wanted to see me.”
“He does.” Little Joe nodded towards the back. “He’s been out once already to see if you were here or not.” Neither he nor anyone else said another word as Mike found his way to the back. Once inside the room where Adam was sitting next to Ben, Mike simply sat down on a nearby chair.
Adam looked up as Mike sat down. The chair in the room sat against the wall and about as far away as it could be; that would never do. “Bring the chair over here,” Adam said as he pointed to the other side of the bed; it, the ‘other side’ happened to be the closest to Mike, “I won’t feel like we have to yell if you do.” He hated that, feeling like he had to yell just to get the person he was talking to to hear him.
Mike hesitated. Moving meant being even closer to the unconscious Mr. Ben Cartwright; still, after moment he stood up and moved the chair as Adam as asked. Mike didn’t want to have to yell either. He just hoped they wouldn’t, somehow, if Mr. Cartwright could hear them, upset the man. Mike didn’t want the man upset on top of being hurt.
Ten minutes of silence, that’s the amount of time Adam and Mike had sat in silence before Adam broke it by speaking. He, Adam, chose his words carefully. The last thing he wanted was to be misunderstood, especially not now. “When I was younger, a little younger than you,” Adam paused as he leaned back in his chair, “I had buried myself just as deep into books as you. I told myself it was because I wanted to learn new things and expand my mind, which to a degree was true.” Adam stopped for a moment and looked at Mike. He had the lad’s attention. “But, it wasn’t the whole truth. Things in a book were black and white, right or wrong. Life isn’t like that, and I didn’t want to face that fact. Mike,” Adam spoke with emphasis, “You can go around blaming yourself for something that was a pure accident; I can go around blaming myself because I didn’t take the time to give you better instructions when I gave you the telescope, but will it really change anything? Will it somehow make the hands of time go backwards and undo what happened?”
Mike bowed his head slightly. He knew in his head what Adam said was true and, yes, it did help him to hear the man speak the way he was. Still, his shoulders sagged somewhat. Mr. Cartwright was still unconscious and, as he’d started for the room, he’d heard Dr. Martin tell Hoss and Little Joe they were going to have to transport Ben to Reno. “There’s got to be something I can do for you, for your father.” Mike lifted his face and looked at Adam. His eyes begging for Adam to understand that while, maybe, he could eventually work through any blame he felt was his; he couldn’t do it without doing something, anything, to help.
Adam sighed, He knew where Mike was coming from, but he was still trying to figure out the best route to take to Reno, due to his father’s condition. Unbeknownst to Mike, the Dr. had already talked to Adam about that, taking Ben to Reno that is. Then, not knowing Mr. Nolan had asked Mike to return to class, Adam had a thought. If it would help Mike feel better to be of help, the idea might work. Adam leaned forward, “My brothers and I are going to have to transport pa to Reno.” Adam wasn’t surprised when Mike stiffened and fresh pain registered in his eyes. Blasted, he hope that news would send the lad backwards. “Our foreman is going to need help on the ranch. You could help some and work on your extra studies some. It would help out immensely.”
Mike shook his head, “I’ll be more than happy to help out on the ranch, Adam, really, but I’m through with schooling. I know enough to pass any tests they give me. I’m going to work the store with my father.”
Adam was mortified. Mike couldn’t give up his studies! He was a bright young man; he could go so far. “Mike, don’t.” Adam’s eyes bore into the lad. “Don’t let this stop you from learning. Life is life. Accept the fact that some things we can change, some we can’t and sometimes we have to remind ourselves those first two fact do exist!”
“Forget it, Adam. Forget the stars. My pa was right. I’ve been walking around with my head in the clouds. I need to get to the work of living.” He may not be used to ranch work, but he’d do it. He’d do it without complaint too. At least, it would be helping the Cartwrights and him both.
Adam couldn’t ‘just forget it’. He knew how smart Mike was, how much knowledge there was still out there for the boy. “It’s the ones walking around with their heads in the clouds that find many of the answers to so many unanswered questions, Mike. Don’t give it up just because of this accident.”
“No, Adam. I guess, I have to admit you have a point about the accident, though it’s going to take my heart some time to stop blaming myself.” Mike admitted; still, he was persistent in his decision. “Pa has been telling me for months to get my act together and get on with the busy of living. He’s right. I’ve had my nose so far into a book that I couldn’t see what was right in front of my eyes!” He folded his arms defiantly. “There’s nothing that you, my pa or anyone else can say to make me change my mind.”
Adam felt frustration once more. In one way he’d succeeded in getting through only to fail in another. He had to try again. “Pa wouldn’t want you to just give up your studies, none of us would. You have a mind. You need to use it.”
“Listen to him.” Hoss stepped into the room, as did Little Joe, Mr. Michaelson and Dr. Martin. All were ready to transport Ben into the back of the wagon that had been lined with more the blanket, not for warmth but to hopefully soften the ride. “Don’t give up your studies.”
“That won’t help Mr. Cartwright.” Sam Michaelson looked at his son. “I was wrong.” He laid his hand upon his son’s shoulder and gave it a small squeeze. He knew of no other way to let the young man know he was serious.
Mike knew each man meant well enough; he’d just made up his mind and wasn’t about to change it. He shook his head, “No, don’t worry about me. I’m through with it, just forget the stars.” No sooner had he said the words than they heard a voice that every one of them had feared they might very well never hear again. Their hearts skipped a beat and their eyes flew to the bed beside Adam and Mike when they heard four simple words.
Ben had come to long enough to repeat the sentence a couple of times before slipping back into unconsciousness. Dr. Martin had checked him over and told them to relax, that it was a good sign and, unless the boys desired differently, he’d keep Ben there in the room until he was waking up, and staying awake, for longer periods of time. Mr. Michaelson had left and walked back up to the store leaving Mike to watch Ben while the Cartwright boys talked things over. After discussing it with the doctor, it had been decided their father had a better chance of actual survival and recovery if they did just that. Afterwards, Hoss and Little Joe had went back to the ranch to do everything Adam had told them needed to be done.
Adam sat on one side of the side of the bed Ben lay on while Mike sat on the other one “Don’t forget the stars.” One simple sentence, but Adam, Mike and the others held onto it, onto the hope Ben would wake up and speak yet again.
Ben looked around the room. He was confused. He knew he wasn’t dead for he could see himself lying in the bed, chest rising and falling. He had to be dreaming, but he didn’t care for the dream either. He looked at Adam leaning backwards with his head tilted to one side. His oldest looked tired and worn out. He, Ben, had stood and watched as Adam told Hoss and Little Joe what needed to be done. He’d watched him try to get Mike to see what he, Ben, had tried to tell the lad with one simple sentence. Amazing thing was, Adam had it right to the very last thing he told Mike. “Can’t you see pa was trying to tell you that, no matter what, not to give up?”
“Smart one, isn’t he?” A voice Ben hadn’t heard in years spoke up from behind him.
Ben was shocked and he whirled around. “Elizabeth!” His face lit up as the dark haired woman smiled upon him as she gave him a hug. His smile slowly turned into a frown though. “I am going to die? Is that why you are here?” His eyebrows turned down slightly.
Elizabeth shook her head and laughed. “No, Ben. You are going to stay very much alive. You’re just caught between here and there is all. I was sent to make sure you went back. It’s not your time yet. The boys, all of them,” she said as she looked at Mike too, “need you to live for now.” Ben went to talk to her, but she was gone and his eyes were heavy.
“Oh,” Ben groaned as he slowly opened his eyes. Actually, he opened them only to shut them and slowly open them. It took a few moments but, eventually things came into focus. Mike was gone and Adam, who had been asleep, had a book in his hands. Though, at the sound of his father’s groan the book had quickly been set down as Adam moved, once again, to the side of the bed just as Dr. Martin hurried into the room. Ben’s groan had been loud enough to bring the good man running.
“Well, well, the dead awakens.” Dr. Martin smiled down at Ben as he began examing him.
“How long have I been out?” Ben asked through the pain he was feeling in his head and his back. He tried to remember what had happened. He couldn’t.
“Close to twenty four hours.” Adam answered as he watched Paul begin to examine his father’s legs. “Though, you’ve been drifting in and out for fifteen of those hours. We had everything ready to transport you to Reno; Doc here thought you’d have to have major surgery in Reno.” It was one thing everyone was relieved had not come to pass.
“What happened?” Ben tried to move only to find it too painful to do such a thing. He looked at his son and the doctor as he asked the question. After all, if he couldn’t remember, surely they could tell him.
Adam looked at Paul as if to ask ‘Is this normal’? He received a nodding of the head to assure him it was. “You were thrown from the wagon when the horses were spooked.” He figured he’d wait to fill in the details. For now, he was just so relieved to have his father awake and really talking. He was sure Hoss and Little Joe would be just as relieved when they were told, along with the Michaelsons.
Dr. Martin, who had pulled down the covers to examine Ben, put the covers back up and stepped back. “Can you tell me your full name?”
Ben gave him a look of disbelief. “Benjamin Cartwright.”
“Where do you live?” Paul looked at him with the most serious expression on his face.
Ben didn’t feel like answering a bunch of stupid questions, but he did anyway. “Outside Virginia City, on my ranch ‘The Ponderosa’, as do my three sons, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. If you ask me my age and the year I was born, I’ll slap you!” That brought laughter from both Paul and Adam.
“I’m thirsty.” Ben would have tried to sit up, but he found Paul with his hands on his,
Ben’s, shoulders. “I won’t ask,” Paul said as he grew serious, “but I do need to talk to Adam and you need to rest, after he helps you get that drink.” He said as he turned and walked out of the room.
Adam got his father a drink and then, sliding his arm under his father’s neck, lifted the man’s head just enough to let him drink some of the water. “Thanks.” Ben said as he lay his head back and went back to sleep. Adam set the glass down and went to see what the doctor had to say.
“Your father’s legs are not responding like they should.” Dr. Martin looked at Adam. He, Adam sat next to Paul’s desk a look of great concern appeared on his face. Dr. Martin hurried to reassure him it didn’t necessarily mean permanent damage had been done. “Still, I do get enough response to let me know that there’s a chance of full recovery. I don’t suggest moving him quite yet though. Once his back is healed up, you can take him back to the Ponderosa. I’ll continuing checking in on him, and I have various things you and your brothers can do for him until he’s able to get around in a wheelchair and plenty of exercises for him to do even then. Though,” the doctor said as he stressed his next words, “the chair should never take place of his exercises. You’re going to have your hands full for a while I fear.” The good doctor knew all too well Ben would never walk again if letting the wheelchair take place of the exercises was allowed to even be an acceptable option.
Once his back was healed up? “How long will that be?” Adam needed to know, as he needed to start planning his, and his brothers’, work days around what he was sure was going to be an interesting ride, if that was even the word to use in this situation. Maybe, he should have thought of ‘Nightmare’ first. Then again, his father would probably only tell him to be more positive if he did. Guess he could work on that one; after all, right now they were blessed to have some of the finest hands on the ranch. That, having dependable hands, would be mighty important as who knows what this deal with his father would entail.
Paul rubbed his forehead feeling the weight of the case on his shoulders. He was a mere man with the knowledge of a man, that was sometimes frustrating. “At least six weeks, maybe even two months, and that’s just for the break to heal. I can’t say how long it will be before he starts walking again. It wouldn’t surprise me if it take at least a year.” He couldn’t say he blamed Adam for the grimaced look that came upon his face.
Adam didn’t speak for a moment. His father had always been so active and hardworking. Being in the wheelchair, for any amount of time, was going to be hard on him and everyone around him. “I’ve got to do something…” Mike’s words rang in his ears. Adam knew Mike was still seriously considering taking tests and getting out of school, despite what Ben had said. “We’ll have help. Right now, I best go find a place for pa to stay in town while that back of his heals.” Adam picked up his hat and headed for the door.
Adam didn’t have to think twice about where he wanted his pa to stay. Mike needed two things; one, to feel like he was doing something for his, Adam’s, father and two, to have something, or someone, knock some sense into him when it came to his education. Somehow, Adam knew if anyone could get through to the lad it would be Ben Cartwright himself. When he reached the store, Sam was behind the counter and Mike was stocking shelves.
Sam’s face filled with concern when Adam walked into the store looking so serious. Fear filled his heart as he thought, perhaps, Ben had not made it after all. The look that came upon Mike’s face, once he saw who had come in, was the same as his father’s. “How’s your father?” Sam asked as he braced himself for the worst.
“He’ll live.” Adam gave him a half smile as he leaned against the counter. Relief flooded through Sam, though he waited to hear what he could see was coming. “You have a spare room here, right?” Adam looked through the opening that led to the back of the store and into the Michaelson’s living quarters.
Sam sighed and nodded. “Yes, we do. If you need it for a while, it’s yours.” He wasn’t about to turn the man away. The Cartwrights were some of the best friends he’d ever had. They’d helped Sam’s family out on more than once occasion.
Adam slowly explained what the doctor had said. He wasn’t surprised to see the pain and guilt that appeared in young Mike’s eyes. Adam was through trying to get through to the boy though; all he could do was hope his father would have more luck than he had. “I’d like to move him here. Hoss, Little Joe and I will be here as much as we can, until it’s safe for him to be transported back to the Ponderosa. I was hoping you could spare Mike though. He’s been saying he wanted to help, and help is something we need right now, especially pa.”
Mike heart skipped a beat; he wasn’t about to try to get out of helping the Cartwrights anyway he could. He stepped away from the shelves. “I could go get the room ready papa.” His face showed how badly he wanted to get started on it. Sam wasn’t about to tell the lad not to, though he too still wished he could get through to Mike; his head had to be made of granite though.
“Fine,” Sam said as he nodded towards the back, “Go and get it ready.” Mike didn’t have to be told a second time as he practically flew to the store and back to the room. Both Sam and Adam shook their head.
“I hope your father has better luck than I have had. That boy will not listen to a word I try to say.” Sam barked softly, his frustration could be heard in his voice. He’d try again, if he knew what to say that would break his son’s stubborn wall down.
Adam hoped so to, but he wasn’t going to dwell on it for now. He had to get back to the Ponderosa and check on things there, talk matters over with Hoss and Little Joe and then either come back into town himself, or send one of his brothers. He took his hat and put it on his head. “Thanks, Sam.” He said as he turned and left the store.
The sunlight shown through the opened window, and it danced upon Ben’s face. He looked around the room his sons had laid him in, the one Sam Michaelson had been kind enough to lend them until Dr. Martin said it was okay for him to travel in a wagon. Thank goodness the doctor had finally told him and his sons that, IF they were extremely careful, they could take Ben home that very day. Nothing against the Michaelson’s, there was something about one’s own bed and his own home that made a huge difference. As it was, Ben had reminded himself more than once it was because Dr. Martin was afraid the jostling of the wagon might do more damage than good at the moment, when it came to his back.
He had to do more than just lie around in bed; it was enough to drive a person crazy. Okay, so he was getting a lot of reading done, and one of his sons and Mike were helping him with his exercises every day, but it was still driving him up a wall. He wanted to get out of the Michaelson’s spare bedroom and back into his own home! When he heard the door open, Ben turned his head and Mike enter the room. “Here, I bought you something to eat.” Mike handed Ben a plate with some sandwiches on them and sat in one of the nearby chairs.
Ben took the food gratefully; after all he was hungry. While he ate, Ben kept his eye on Mike. He was troubled by the things he’d seen and heard over the past six weeks. The fact Mike would turned his back on everything he’d ever cared about it bothered Ben greatly. He’d only tried to talk to Mike about it once, and that had been a complete flop.
Ben had then spent the time at the Michaelson’s simply visiting with Mike about every day things and listening to the plan Mike now had to get to know his father’s business well enough that he could take over the day it became necessary. By the time Dr. Martin informed him and his sons that Ben could be moved he, Ben, knew he was going to have to find a way to get Mike back to studying, but he’d have to use some “side” or “back” door as, after staying with the Michaelson’s for as long as he had, Ben knew the front door was nailed shut.
“Mike,” Ben said as he held the plate the sandwiches had been on towards Mike, “I suppose you know my sons are going to be coming by to take me home today.” He watched the young boy’s face as he, Mike, stood up to take the plate from him. He hurt him to see the life he’d once seen in those eyes gone. He definitely needed to find that back door, a side door, whichever one Mike wasn’t guarding.
“Papa told me this morning.” Mike gave him a small smile. “I imagine you’re pretty excited to get home.” He knew he would be; after all, the importance of being in one’s home he could definitely relate to. Sure, Adam, Little Joe or Hoss had constantly been in to check in on their father, but it wasn’t the same thing he knew it.
Ben cautiously took the first step towards the back door. “You know,” he said as he laid one arm across his chest while he raised the other one to his chin, “I was thinking to talk to your father, see if he could spare you for at least three days of the week. My boys are, and will be, pretty busy with the ranch without the added stress of having to help me with my exercises. I would like it if I could get you to come out to the ranch and help me with the exercises Paul’s given me. I figured since, you’ve already been helping me on that end.” His son’s had pulled Mike into help with the leg massages the good doctor had given to him from day one.
Mike smiled wide, “If papa can spare me, I’d be more than happy to do it.” Helping Mr. Cartwright made the boy feel better; he hoped his father would okay it. Just as he started to leave Ben spoke up again.
“I was hoping…” Ben looked at him with a look of complete innocence and said, “Hoss told me yesterday we were going to be having some company visiting, a dear friend of ours and his family. He has a wife and a couple of young sons. Well, he actually had quite the brew, but only a couple are left at home. Anyway, I was hoping you could bring that telescope Adam gave to you with you. George, one of the sons, is really getting an interest in Astronomy.” He wasn’t surprised to see Mike bristle slightly, but showed no sign he’d seen the reaction.
Mike had taken the telescope down, dismantled it and put it away, out of sight. He didn’t really want to take it out again yet Mr. Cartwright wasn’t asking him to use it, just to let his friend’s son use it. He guessed he could handle taking it out for that reason. “If my father can spare me, I’ll bring it.” Mike answered as he left the room.
Ben waited until the lad was out of the room before closing his eyes and grinning from ear to ear. He hadn’t spent years raising three sons for nothing. The first step towards that back door had been a success; well, it was in his eyes anyway. Hadn’t Sam told him just the other day that ‘it would take a miracle for Mike to even look at that thing again, for any reason, even just to show it to someone? He, Ben, just hoped that young George was indeed still interested in the field of Astronomy.
Ben sat on the porch, in the wheelchair Adam had gotten for him, talking to his friends Alan and Abigail Benson. George had become ecstatic when Ben told him Michael had brought his telescope for him, George, to see. “I thought Joshua was coming with you.” Ben looked at the Benson’s as he took a sip of the lemonade Hop Sing had brought out for them. Joshua was the oldest of the two boys and quite good friends with Hoss.
Alan nodded as he answered, “He was, but his future father in law and you both have something in common; you tried to fly without wings.” He winked at Ben.
Ben couldn’t help it; he cringed slightly. He felt bad for the man, though he had to chuckle just a little at the way Alan put it. “I thought he had a couple of sons to help him. How long is he laid up for?” He had hoped to get the couple to let George to stay on the Ponderosa for a while. Now, he wondered if that would be possible.
“His oldest son moved back east; his wife wanted back by her family,” Alan said as he grew quiet for a moment then softly added, “Paul, their other son, was shanghaied seven months ago. They haven’t seen him since. As far as how long he’ll be laid up goes, doc says he should be up and around in a couple of months.”
Ben felt his heart go out to the family. He didn’t know what he’d do if any of his son ever suffered that fate. “I’m sorry to hear that.” Ben, as he thought on sons, anyone’s sons, and the fate life sometimes handed them, glanced up towards the roof. He had been pleasantly shocked when Mike and George had come and asked if they could get on the roof with the telescope; actually, George had asked. Mike looked uncomfortable, but said it was okay with him if it was with Mr. Cartwright.
Alan, not knowing of Ben’s desire for George to stay, struggled to ask what was on his mind, but his wife gave him ‘the eye’ and he gave in. “We were hoping it wouldn’t be too much to ask…” he said as Ben watched him squirm just a little. Ben was curious; what were they going to ask him. “If George could stay here for a few weeks, we are going to Chicago and he just hates to travel. Well, physically he does. I swear he’s traveling all the time.” Alan pointed to his head.
Ben broke out laughing. He knew the story. He didn’t know how many steps it would take to get to Mike’s door but he knew the second step towards it had just presented itself. He clapped his hand on his friend’s shoulder and answered with a grin a mile wide on his face, “Don’t act as if that’s a big request Alan. You had me worried for a moment! He can stay as long as you need him to.” He leaned back in his chair; he had to, his back was starting to bother him.
Alan wasn’t blind. He could tell what Ben wasn’t about to admit. Just as he started to open his mouth, Little Joe came out of the house. He too saw his father needed some rest. “Come on, Pa. Dr. Martin’s coming out tomorrow. You don’t want him to see you looking all worn out do you? He might insist on you moving back into town.” He really wasn’t worried about that; still, it was something to tease his pa about and a way to get a reaction out of him. It worked.
“I’m not going back to town,” Ben barked quite loudly as Little Joe turned the wheelchair around. “I’m doing just fine here!” His friends were chuckling as they followed Little Joe and Ben inside.
From the top of the room, Mike and George could hear Ben and Little Joe going at each other. George laughed; Mike frowned slightly. “What are you looking upset for?” George looked at his new friend, “They’re always like that. Pa says so. He says it’s one of the reasons he likes coming here.”
Mike didn’t answer for a moment as he, for the thousandth time, saw Ben Cartwright flying through the air and landing on the hard ground below. “Dr. Martin says it may be up to a year that he’s out of that thing; it’s my fault he’s there, you do realize this, don’t you?” Mike had heard Adam telling George’s parents about the accident and figured George had heard about it too. He had.
George had never been one to wallow in self-pity or guilt even though he’d had plenty occasions to do both. He didn’t feel like listening to anyone else doing it either, but was wise enough not to just lay into Mike. “I had a friend once,” George began speaking as he looked through the telescope, “I talked him into climbing some hills with me; we went into a pretty dangerous are at my insistence. Long story short, my friend died and I barely survived.” He pulled back from the telescope and stood up. “Yes, I had guilt in my heart for some time, but I moved forward. After all, I knew my friend wouldn’t want me wasting my life on account of his death. It seems to me, if you really wanted to prove to Mr. Cartwright how sorry you are, you’d stop putting your life on hold.” He was off the roof before Mike could come up with all the excuses he’d given to anyone else who had, in other words, told him the same thing. It was another hour before Mike retreated back into the house through the window George and he had used to get onto the roof.
“I am too right!” Ben, Adam and Hoss could hear George and Michael arguing over various facts and figures. All three men were grinning ear to ear as Adam and Hoss stood on both sides of their father as they helped him stand up. After months of exercises and other treatments, Ben had finally gotten to the point where Paul said they, the boys, could start helping their father to ‘get back on his feet’.
Ben bit his tongue and held onto both his sons quite tightly. His legs and back weren’t sure what he thought he was doing and told him as much. “We don’t have to do this quite yet, pa. Dr. Martin did say we could wait a spell iff’n ya needed to.” Hoss didn’t want to see his father push things too soon and wind up in a wheelchair for good.
Hoss meant well, and Ben appreciated it, but he shook his head. “No, the longer we hold off on things, the longer I’m in that blasted contraption! Besides,” he said as he glanced up towards the roof, “Don’t you remember what you the conversation you overheard Michael and George having the other day?”
A huge grin crossed all their faces as Hoss lowered his voice and recited once more what had taken place; after all, he didn’t want the boys to know he’d been listening.
“I think Mr. Cartwright did this on purpose.” Michael said as he helped George with one of the boy’s experiment.” The two boys were standing near the barn looking at the telescope, unaware Hoss was inside listening to every word they said.
“Did what?” George asked, confused as to what the Michaelson boy was talking about.
“Had you stay here,” Michael answered as he adjusted the telescope, “I think he knew you’d drive me crazy getting your facts all mixed up and I’d have to correct you and…” he paused as George got the drift of what he was saying and bust up laughing.
“That ‘old man’ set you up!” George started laughing, “But it worked, didn’t it?” George had handed Mike the book they’d been sharing, “You are taking up your studies again, aren’t you?” He’d seen Mike talking to Mr. Nolan the other day, and when the schoolteacher had walked away he’d looked elated.
Mike grinned and chuckled, “Yeah, well, if Mr. Cartwright can keep his exercises and such up in spite of the pain it causes him, I guess I can go back to school. Besides, someone has to keep your facts straight!”
“I may be an old man,” Ben said as he laughed softly, “but I reckon I still have a few good years left.” He held onto his sons and took another step, after seven months in the wheelchair it felt great, even with the small amount of pain that accompanied it.
“Mr. Cartwright! Mr. Cartwright!” Mike ran down the side of the road towards Ben and Adam; the two men had just ridden into town to take care of some business. Ben dismounted Buck and turned to face the excited one very excited Michael Michaelson, Adam did the same.
“Whoa!” Ben had to hold his hands out to keep Mike from bumping into him. “What is it?” He only asked the question in order not to ruin the boy’s day. Mr. Nolan had already talked to Adam earlier.
“I’m going to college! I’ve been accepted!” Mike was looked like he was close to busting. “Thank you!” he his arms around Ben and hugged him. “Thank you for not giving up yourself and for caring enough to find a way to get through to me!”
Ben started grinning from ear to ear. “You don’t need to thank me. You only need to do one thing. You know what that is, don’t you?” He asked as Mike stepped back as he was a bit embarrassed at ‘acting in such a manner in public.
Mike’s face started beaming and his eyes sparkled as he said, “Yes, sir. Don’t forget the stars!” He then turned around and ran towards the store. “I’ve got to find papa and tell him!” Ben and Adam smiled, looked at each other and chuckled as they walked into the bank.
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